GETTING THERE: Pan Am and Eastern fly daily from Washington via Miami to Port of Spain. American Airlines flies daily nonstop from New York's Kennedy Airport. BWIA International Airlines, the national airline of Trinidad and Tobago, flies Monday, Friday and Saturday from Baltimore-Washington via Barbados to Port of Spain.
Calculating the fare is complicated by the fact that you often get the cheapest fares if you also buy a hotel package, available from a travel agent. For example, BWIA currently is offering a round-trip rate of $355 to Port of Spain provided you book a hotel package for a minimum of three days. Without a package, the fare is $714.
From Port of Spain, you can catch one of BWIA's almost hourly jet shuttle flights to Tobago. Flight time is just 12 minutes. If you plan to head first to Tobago, making the connection in Port of Spain is fairly easy. Someone from the Tobago tourism office in Port of Spain meets incoming flights from abroad and escorts Tobago-bound passengers through customs so they are not delayed.
Some airlines include the cost of the flight from Port of Spain to Tobago as part of the fare from the United States to Port of Spain. On other airlines, the Port of Spain to Tobago fare is extra. For example, American currently is offering a round-trip rate of $429 between New York City and Port of Spain. (The ticket must be purchased two weeks in advance, and you must stay at least seven days and no more than 21.) If you want to continue on to Tobago, the Port of Spain-Tobago round-trip fare is $32.22.
Most hotel packages include the cost of a round-trip taxi ride between the airport and your hotel, both on Trinidad and Tobago. Otherwise it is about $12 to $15 one way. WHERE TO STAY: Tobago has the country's best beach hotels. We stayed at the Turtle Beach Hotel, which sits in the middle of a two-mile-long crescent beach near Plymouth, and considered it the nicest of several we saw. It is not a luxury hotel, but it is comfortable and friendly. All the rooms face the water, and you have either a deck (ground floor) or a balcony (second floor). The meals are very good, featuring local foods. Snorkeling tours are offered on Tobago's Buccoo Reef, and there are tennis courts, but little else is offered in the way of organized activities.
The rate for a double room (without meals) at Turtle Beach is $130 for the winter high season. Service and tax are an additional 13 percent. Breakfast and dinner are $32 per person if you choose to purchase the meal supplement package. For information: (809) 639-2851.
In Port of Spain, we stayed at the Hilton International Trinidad, an unusually attractive place for such a big hotel. Draped in tropical foliage, it sprawls across a 25-acre hillside estate overlooking the city and the Savannah. The strong of leg can walk to the heart of the city, and a taxi will get you there in five minutes. Guests take refuge from the heat in the hotel's large swimming pool. The rate for a double room ranges from $127 to $132 a night. For information: (809) 624-3211.
An agreeable alternative just down the hill from the Hilton is the newly renovated Hotel Normandie, a modest two-story, French-style country inn wrapped around a pleasant courtyard and swimming pool. The rate for a double room ranges from $70 to $85. For information: (809) 624-1181.
Within the Normandie complex is The Market, a collection of boutiques selling fashionable wear from Trinidad designers. The hotel also features La Fantasie, an excellent restaurant serving what the chef calls "cuisine creole nouvelle," a blend of local foods with a French flair.
Note: Room rates in Trinidad and Tobago probably will be higher the first two weeks in February leading up to Carnival. INFORMATION: Trinidad and Tobago Tourist Board, 400 Madison Ave., Suite 712-14, New York, N.Y. 10017, (800) 232-0082.
"Masquerade, The Visitor's Introduction to Trinidad and Tobago," by Jeremy Taylor (Macmillan Publications, about $9.50), is available in most bookstores and hotel shops, it provides a good introduction to the history and culture of the two islands and suggestions for sightseeing. It also is sold at Travel Books Unlimited in Bethesda.
Noted birdwatcher William L. Murphy of Lanham, who leads many Smithsonian birding tours, has written an informative 128-page book, "A Birder's Guide to Trinidad and Tobago." A frequent visitor to the islands, he includes tips on escorted tours and lodgings convenient to birding areas. For a copy, send a check for $12.95 to Peregrine Enterprises, P.O. Box 1003, College Park, Md. 20740.